Saturday, June 15, 2019

Following The Money: Politicians and Money

Follow the money. We've all hear the expression, which appears to have originated back around the time of President Nixon and the Watergate scandal; made popular by the 1976 docudrama "All The President's Men". Basically, it just common sense. If you assume that everything goes back to money, then no matter how obfuscated the events are or how many people are involved, if you can track the flow of money, you can pretty much figure out most any mystery. Let's take Congress for example.

Did you know that 50.8% of all Congress members are millionaires going into office? The rest are all pretty much upper middle class or "near-millionaires"? Bet you didn't know that nearly every member of Congress leaving office was at least a millionaire. The total wealth of the previous Congress was $2.43 billion dollars, which up 20% over the prior Congress. To put that in context, Standard and Poor's index and the Dow Jones industrial average rose only 10% for the same span.

In case that's still not clear, how about this? The median net worth of an average American household is $92,950 whereas the average member of Congress has a net worth of $511,000 (2016). Let's put it yet another way. The average member of Congress has a net worth equal to 18 average households. Still think they "feel our pain"? By the way, just 5.8% of all Americans are millionaires by comparison.

Thanks to the absence of term limits and party based gerrymandering, the "Citizens United" misruling by the Supreme Court, along with their enormous wealth has created our professional political class; something our Founding Fathers vehemently opposed. In fact, for every 13 members, there is a "one percenters" in Congress (someone whose income is in the top 1%). There are ten House members and three Senators whose individual net worth exceeds $43 million each.

How about party? Which of the two sides has the wealthiest members? In the Senate, it's the Republicans. They have an average net worth of $1.4 million which the average Democrat's net worth is $946,000. However, in the House, it's the Democrats who have most money, but not by much. The average net worth of a Democrat is $424,000 compared to GOP which has an average net worth of $401,000. Taken together, the GOP has 64% of the total wealth in Congress. Sorry, but I'm still not sensing any "pains" for taxpayers yet. Nevertheless, here's a little tidbit which I found interesting, and it deals with wage equality; a very popular campaign issue as you know.

The average female in Congress has a individual net worth of $682,000 compared to her male counterpart who has an individual net worth of $465,000. As an aside, seven of the top ten wealthiest female Congress members is a Democrat with Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) leading the way with a net worth of $58.5 million dollars. By comparison, Darrel Issa (R-CA) has a net worth of $283 million. In fact, just 12 members of Congress have more than 50% of the total wealth of Congress.

How about some other individuals to consider? Let's start with Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). She has a net worth of $18 million with most of her wealth coming from real estate. Rep. Joseph Kennedy III (D-MA) is worth $18.7 million; mainly from trust funds. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has a net worth of 10.4 million, which the majority of this coming from investments.

Rep John Yarmuth's net worth is $6.1 million with most of that coming from real estate. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has a net worth of $4.7 million with most of that coming from investments. Rep Tom Massie (R-KY) is a pauper by comparison. His net worth is just $800,000 with nearly of it coming from real estate. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) is even poorer with a net worth of only $500,000 based on a mixture of real estate and investments. Nevertheless, none of these individuals are what most of us could consider to be "average" when it comes to wealth.

Here's something we also need to consider. First, an average member of Congress earns $174,000 a year (the Speaker of the House earns a bit more, $223,000). Congressional leaders earn around $193,000. The last pay raise Congress gave itself was back in 2009 (Congress has recently sent up a test balloon to increase their salary by $4000. The response thus far has been strongly negative). Secondly, most every member enters Congress already in the top 5% income bracket, meaning that most are already millionaires long before going to Washington.

Third, the majority of Congressional members come from the Business sector where they were typically senior officers (and owners) as well as sit on a number of well paying board of director seats. The majority tend to have come from banking, communications, technology, finance, pharmaceutical, and shipping backgrounds. A little personal tidbit about Congressional members is that they love playing the stock market.

The stock they most have in common is General Electric (probably because of its technology base and the fact that it's a key military contractor). In fact, 74 members of Congress have at least some GE stock in their investment portfolio. Their second favorite stock is Wells Fargo, followed by Microsoft, Apple, Proctor & Gamble, along with Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, and other financial institutions. I'm sure that the fact that these companies have the most active lobbyists has absolutely nothing to do with it.

While the overwhelming majority of these individuals can't relate to the average American, we should also show them a little love. After all, running for office isn't cheap. In 2018, the average amount spent to run for a Senate seat was $10 million dollars. For a House seat it was $1.3 million. Of course, this doesn't include what super PACs or political non-profits contribute, which thanks to the Citizens United misruling by the Supreme Court, added millions more to the total cost.

Of course, we have to remember that the vast majority of this money goes to incumbents and rarely to challengers. Once elected, the average Congressional member is expected to spend up to 5 hours a day raising money for their party and for their next election (typically only 3 hours a day is actually spent on the "People's business". That means a lot of schmoozing with deep pocket contributors and corporate lobbyists.

Add in a lack of term limits, and you have a professional political class; politicians who are totally beholden to their new bosses---the ruling Oligarchy. If you think about it, it's a lot like dealing with the Mafia. Once you take that first dollar or accept that first "favor", you're hooked. They've got you. Party means absolutely nothing. It's all about the money. Amusingly, the colors assigned to both parties, red for the Republicans and blue for the Democrats, when mixed is green, the color of money. Remember that!

Meanwhile, the average American is pushed further and further from their rightful place as the master; replaced by faceless corporations which has created an Oligarchy. Gone is the notion of a "Citizen Legislator" as proposed by our Founding Fathers. The master has become the servant (or more properly, the economic serf). Washington has long ceased to answer to us, the voters. We've been made all but obsolete; a necessary inconvenience to be appeased every so often. The question, as always dear reader, is what are we prepared to do about it? How much more are we willing to take?

If we continue to do nothing, it can and will only get worse. Let's not let that happen. Let's find ways to come together regardless of party, gender, race, sexual orientation, or any other manufactured division. That's what the Oligarchy fears the most. That's why they try so hard to keep us divided. We must demand full transparency in government; term limits; an end to Citizens United and real campaign finance reform; an end to party sponsored gerrymandering; ending the cozy relationship between politicians and lobbyists, as well as stopping the revolving door between government and Wall Street or K Street (K Street is where most lobbying firms are located).

Personally, I would like to see newly elected individuals resign from their political party as soon as they're elected and take an oath to represent everyone in their district and state. No more "dialing for dollars" on our time, paid for by our tax dollars. I would like to see a 12 year cap imposed on all federally elected candidates. This means capping the amount of time anyone can hold office. That's six 2 year terms for the House, two 6 year terms for the Senate, three 4 year terms for the President, and 12 years for the Supreme Court and all federally appointed judgeships. If you can't get done what you want in the 12 years, then perhaps politics isn't for you.

So, what do you think? Have you had enough of being manipulated? Are you tired of being turned into an economic serf? Tired of being talked down too or being treated like government knows what's best for you? Had enough of being lied to? Of having politicians ignore the voter's instructions? I could go on and on and you know it. Let's come together as a nation and retake our government back while we still have time to act.

Wealth of Congress: Richer than Ever, but Mostly at the Very Top

One Member of Congress = 18 American Households; Lawmaker's Personal Finances Far From Average

The Richest Members of Congress Built Their Wealth This Way

Most in Congress Are Millionaires, But Many Were before They Were Elected

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